A/N: Written for the Random Characters Challenge. I'll let you read and find out who those two random characters are, yeah?
Inside the Leaky Cauldron, the air was thick and warm, the atmosphere bustling (and yet quiet, somehow—the pub drowsed in a lovely tranquil that all the chatter of the customers couldn't mask). Families, friends, lovers—all sat smoking and drinking, eating and laughing, and the golden firelight cast a soft, watercolour wash upon the picture.
Daphne Greengrass watched it all through a grimy windowpane, standing outside the pub and shivering in the evening chill. One couple she watched in particular—a young man with dusky hair and a blonde girl whose eyes were almost as grey as her sister's new husband's. She had said something and he was laughing—laughing at old fears, Daphne's poetic mind immediately supplied the phrase—and the picture the two created, framed by the vandalised windowsill, seemed perfect and untroubled, stolen off the canvas of some long-dead artist.
The warm exterior of the pub beckoned to her, but she stood huddled in the cold, hesitant and undecided, oblivious to the curious looks—and wide berth—Muggles gave her as they passed her by. She would have gloried in the idea if she had noticed, anyway—the idea of staring at nothingness which was, in actuality, not nothingness at all, would have seemed absolutely beautiful to her.
"Best get it over with," she murmured to herself—more cause for Muggles to swerve away—and she entered the pub, sighing as a wave of warmth engulfed her.
She moved through a golden haze, blinking as the light danced before her dark-accustomed eyes, but soon she could see comfortably enough to locate the couple and cautiously approach them.
The dark man (skin the colour of unstained ebony, she told herself—beautiful phrases helped her when she was uncomfortable; it was the writer, or maybe even the romantic in her—) looked up, eyebrows pulled together.
She forced herself to put out a hand (eyes like the darkest part of midnight, she thought desperately) and said, "I'm Daphne Greengrass… we were in the same year at Hogwarts, I'm not sure if you remember…"
Understanding didn't light up in those midnight eyes. Quite the opposite—shadows flitted into them, making them, if it were possible, even darker.
"I remember," he said.
She cringed a little, even as his companion surveyed her with wide, unembarrassed eyes. Daphne recognized her now: It was the Lovegood girl. She gathered the shreds of her courage (and her dignity, it had gone straight out the window at the two words he had spoken) and said, quietly, "I was wondering if you would mind me taking a few moments of your time. There's something rather important I need to tell you…"
"I want to talk to Hannah, Dean," Lovegood said unexpectedly, her voice dreamy and serene. "She's sitting at that empty table… and I haven't told her about the billywigs yet, either…" She stood up and floated off, leaving Daphne at a complete loss with those shadowy eyes scrutinising her.
"Why don't you sit down?" he said politely enough, gesturing at the vacated seat. She perched herself carefully on the wooden stool, smoothing out her silken skirt.
"I heard your sister got married recently," he said after a few moments, startling her with his lack of hostility. It began to occur to her that, despite the shadows in his eyes, he was every bit as embarrassed and uncomfortable as she was—and he was probably right to begin with small talk. She had no idea how to work up to what she meant to tell him.
"To Draco Malfoy," he continued when she didn't immediately reply, a faint note of discomfiture creeping into his voice. "Congratulations."
She would have thought he was being sarcastic if it was anyone else and any other situation, but she thought she understood what he was trying to get at—shall we try to be cordial? he was saying, offering the white flag—and she took the flag with an enthusiasm bordering on desperation.
"Thank you," she said, offering a dim smile. "She's very happy—and we're happy for her, too."
They fidgeted in the uncomfortable silence that followed, and she finally said, plucking up the courage—symmetry is an important part of beauty, she told herself, and since he had begun a topic of conversation, she was now obliged to do the same—"I didn't realise you and Luna Lovegood were such good friends. She seems very nice," she added charitably, remembering the way she and her old friends had giggled about her in the Slytherin common room. She reddened.
"She is," he answered. "She's one of my closest friends—you tend to find a lot of those in a war." Perhaps he, too, sensed another looming lapse into silence, because he continued talking about her. "We meet here for coffee every now and then. Luna's strange, but her beliefs are what make her so dear to a lot of people, I think, and not just to me—and she stands up for what she believes in, too."
Daphne's face had gone past the attractively-blushing stage and was now full-out, tomato-red. She said, confused, "I heard they hired you in the Ministry? Something about advertising?"
He affirmed her statement with a nod. "And you write for the feature section of the Daily Prophet. I've seen some of your short stories, too."
He leaned a little closer, without seeming to realise it, and said, in a quiet voice, "Why are you here, Daphne? If it's to apologise for what happened in school, you don't need to. It was a very long time ago, and it was nothing, really. We were just kids. Besides—" he hesitated, and continued "—you've really changed. I can see that."
If she could have held any more red in her cheeks, she would have flushed. What she had done years ago had meant nothing to her, really, until after she had graduated, after the war, when she began to seriously look back on everything she had ever done in her life. What she had done to Dean Thomas in second year was the forerunner of her whole silly existence as part of Pansy Parkinson's posse at Hogwarts, and she regretted it. She didn't like looking back at those memories, now that she had carefully sorted them out—they seemed to mock her with a childish, malicious glee.
When she had suppressed the wave of embarrassment the memories brought on—she was a writer, of course she was sensitive, she told herself whenever her feelings threatened to engulf her—she managed to say, with composure, "That's not why I'm here, actually."
A frown settled upon his features. "Really? Then what is it you wanted to say to me?"
She smoothed out her unwrinkled skirt once more, tucked back a strand of hair, did everything in her power to put off what she had to say; though she might be a lover of romance and all things beautiful, she knew that no crafted phrases, no matter how exquisitely worded, would help her now. What she was going to tell him was an ugly truth, plain and simple—no embellishments, no redeeming charm.
Finally, when she could find nothing else to do, she began, keeping her hands clasped on the table, and her gaze averted.
"I heard my sister's father-in-law talking to her husband, one night," she said softly. "I was on my way to our kitchen to grab a midnight snack, and I heard them talking in our living room… perhaps they hadn't been able to sleep, just like me… I don't know. I meant to pass by quietly when I heard a name that grabbed my attention—Thomas. Yes," she said, smiling wryly as she imagined him raising his eyebrows (she hadn't lifted her gaze from the table), "it's been years, but what I did is something I've always been ashamed of, no matter how many times I tell myself I was a twelve year old at the time, excused by my age, and that you probably wouldn't remember anyway… I was still ashamed. And so hearing that name got me curious, and I listened to what they had to say."
She forced herself to look at him, now, but couldn't, couldn't meet his eyes just yet—she settled on his dark cheeks. "I know that you left school in our seventh year because you weren't sure whether you were Muggleborn or not, but now… I know what happened to your father." She paused. "Should I continue?"
"Go on, please," he said, his voice impassive. She wondered that it didn't shake with emotion, and was so taken by the idea of strong and silent that she almost forgot the thread of her story.
"He was a wizard," she said softly. "He loved your mum, and he loved you, too, so much that he left you both without telling your mum about what he was."
She glanced up at his eyes now, unable to prevent herself, and they were dark, impenetrable depths. He nodded for her to continue.
"He knew the Death Eaters were after him, and that's why he left," she went on, "but when he ran, they caught him. And he—" she choked. "He was brave, so brave. He refused to join them, so they… they killed him."
His face was still infuriatingly impassive. "I see."
"I'm sorry," she said in a whisper.
"And how did Malfoy know the man they killed was my father? I took the surname of my stepfather."
"They found letters addressed to his Muggle wife, and to his son, whose name was Dean… Draco mentioned that he knew a Dean Thomas, though he wasn't sure if it was the same person, and when I put two and two together, I knew it was your father."
"I see," he repeated.
There was silence for so long that Daphne grew afraid.
Finally, he spoke. "Why did you tell me?"
She was caught off-guard by the question. "I—I'm not sure," she finally stammered. "I guess I felt I owed it to you…"
"For calling me a Mudblood in second year?"
She winced as the memories came flooding back once more, disjointed images that were slightly faded with the years: Introducing themselves in the library, meeting him in the corridors along with Pansy Parkinson and the rest of her Slytherin friends, Pansy's high-pitched voice, "You can't really know him, he's a Mudblood! Tell him that, Daphne—", her own voice, loud and harsh in its confusion: "Mudblood!", and, perhaps most terrible of all, his reaction: not a trace of shock or hurt in his expression, but a shrug of his shoulders and a turning of his back, as if he couldn't care less and wasn't affected at all. He probably wasn't, she tried to tell herself later on. They had only met the day before at the library—they hadn't even been friends or anything.
"I guess that's a part of it," she admitted. "And if it makes any difference now, I'm sorry for that."
He accepted her apology with a graceful dip of his head, but his eyes still didn't show the wild emotion she had convinced herself to expect from his discovery of his father's history. They were as black as ever, but now… were they… twinkling?
"Why aren't you reacting at all?" she demanded. "If it were me, I'd be violent with my emotion—like—like a stormy night, all blustery winds and—"
"That's because you're obviously a very emotional, sensitive person, like the writer you are," he replied, his voice filled with shocking humour. "And it's also because you're assuming I didn't already know what you just told me."
She felt the colour leave her face, now, the scarlet draining away. "I—what?"
"Lucius Malfoy isn't the only one who read those letters," he said, smiling. "Harry's head of the Auror department, and can put two and two together just as quickly as you can—one of the captured Death Eaters had the letters among his possessions, and Harry gave them to me."
She almost felt faint. "Why didn't you say something before I went and told the whole bloody story?"
"Well," he paused, "I think you needed to get it out. Daphne, I think you're trying to do… better, you know? I can't judge—I hardly know you. But I thought I'd try to help by letting you talk… Luna always tells me the twiddlings settle around your head and calm your thoughts whenever you talk, whatever the hell twiddlings are. The rest of her theory seems fairly accurate, though. Talking helps.
"Look," he continued, "can we just… I dunno… start over? New beginnings, and all that. Pretend we've just met, and maybe become friends?"
She had to smile at that. "I think I'd like that very much." She offered her hand once again, without having to force herself this time. "Hi, I'm Daphne Greengrass."
He took her hand and they shook atop the table. He grinned. "Call me Dean."
Daphne left the Leaky Cauldron much later, and found that the night air seemed less cold than it had the first time she had stood outside the pub's warmth, a stranger observing a dead artist's tranquil, gold-washed painting from behind a dirt-smeared window. So much had changed in the course of a few hours…
Walking away, she suddenly realised that she had come to the pub in order to help someone—and that person had ended up helping her, instead.
Her romantic soul couldn't help but revel in the beauty of that idea.
A/N: My Daphne, as mentioned several times, is a writer - she's a bit of a romantic, and not just the lovey-dovey romance type of romantic. She loves beautiful ideas and notions, is dreamy and prone to be a little silly at times, and is altogether very different from my idea of Astoria, who you might see in a bit (if I ever manage to write that Draco/Astoria piece I've been struggling with!) JKR mentioned that she was part of Pansy Parkinson's posse, so I took that idea, but I created my own about the Greengrasses - I think they are a little concerned about the difference between purebloods and muggleborns, but don't carry it to the extent of the Malfoys - they'll have friends who are muggleborns, and Daphne is the only Slytherin in the family.
As for Dean's father's history, it was mentioned by JKR on her website as well.
If you've gotten this far, thanks for taking the time to read this piece. I really, really enjoyed writing it - it took me one night to finish it!